Goldendale Free Public Library, first public library in Klickitat County, opens on March 1, 1915.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 6/03/2006
  • Essay 7788
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On March 1, 1915, the Goldendale Free Public Library opens in Goldendale, initiating library service for county residents. The building is constructed with funds donated by Pittsburgh philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). As of 2006, the Goldendale Public Library (now part of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System) remains one of only two public libraries in Klickitat County.

Women Want Books

The impetus for organizing a local library came from the Women's Association of Goldendale, which raised $800 to purchase three adjoining lots on West Burgen Street in 1912. On October 14, 1912, the Goldendale City Council passed an ordinance agreeing to fund library operations and to maintain the library. Goldendale Mayor Nicholas L. Ward (1854-1917) appointed the first Library Board of Trustees.

Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie provided $8,000 to fund construction of a one-story Colonial style brick building designed by the Portland, Oregon, firm of Doyle and Patterson. Doyle and Patterson were the noted designers of Portland's Central Library, Benson Hotel, and Lipman Wolfe and Company Department Store. The Portland firm Stebinger Brothers built the library.

Goldendale residents donated books and Spokane librarian Mrs. H. H. Johnson traveled to Goldendale during February and March of 1915 to accession and catalog them and set up a system for checking them out to patrons. When the library opened, the collection numbered about 400 and a book fund had been established to purchase additional volumes. The Goldendale Sentinel reported, "Forty dollars have been expended recently in the purchase of several fine sets of books. The sum remaining in the book fund will be spent at once, under the direction of our trained librarian ... Teachers, especially, are requested to make suggestions as to the books that will be most helpful to them in the work of the grades ... Several have signified their intention of giving books and the librarian is now ready to receive all donations. A large number of empty shelves speak eloquently of our need" (February 4, 1915). Janice B. Council was the first librarian.

Opening Night

The opening of the library was a highly anticipated event. The Goldendale Sentinel announced plans for the opening reception in an article printed February 25, 1915: "As mentioned in last week's Sentinel, the formal public opening of the Goldendale Public Library will take place Monday evening, March 1st, immediately following the first performances at the local theatres. The early evening will be devoted to an inspection of the building and a reception, held in the (basement) auditorium."

On March 4, 1915, the Goldendale Sentinel reported on the opening festivities:

"Fully 150 people attended the formal opening of the Goldendale Public Library, Monday evening March 1. The building had been very beautifully decorated for the occasion with festooning of Oregon Grape and potted plants and palms in artistic profusion . ... a very pleasing feature of the entertainment was rendered by an Edison phonograph kindly loaned for the occasion by Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Wallace . ... at 9:30 a gong sounded calling the guests to the upper floor. The program was opened by an invocation by Mr. Airheart followed by a violin solo 'Ernsts Elegy' by Mr. R. H. Wheldon accompanied by his mother, which was enthusiastically received ... Mrs. Crowder-Miller, the honor guest, gave a charming talk on her visit to the home of James Whitcomb Riley in which she vividly portrayed the simplicity of Mr. Riley's home surroundings ... she presented the Library with a volume of this poet's works."

One hundred and sixty school children attended an afternoon reception on Tuesday, March 3, from 4:00 to 5:30.

Serving Klickitat County

As the only library in Klickitat County, the Goldendale Free Public Library served patrons far beyond Goldendale. In recognition of this fact, Klickitat County Commissioners provided the library with grants varying between $200 and $800 per year. Even after the White Salmon Library opened in 1929, the Goldendale Free Public Library served as the unofficial Klickitat County Library.

In 1973 the Goldendale Fee Public Library (by then known as the Goldendale Community Library) became part of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library system, a system serving Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat counties, as well as the city of Woodland in Cowlitz County. The City of Goldendale contracted with the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System for interlibrary loans, bookmobiles, and other services. In 1981, Goldendale residents voted to annex their library to the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System. This enabled library taxes collected by the city to be paid directly to the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System rather than being listed as a line item in the city budget.

In 1982 the Goldendale Free Public Library/Goldendale Community Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The building was remodeled and expanded in 1985.

Sources: History of Klickitat County ed. by Pete May (Goldendale: Klickitat County Historical Society, 1982) p16; "Washington -- Klickitat County," National Register of Historic Places website accessed May 28, 2006 (; "Goldendale Community Library," and "White Salmon Valley Community Library," Fort Vancouver Regional Library System website accessed May 28, 2006 (; "Goldendale Public Library To Open," Goldendale Sentinel, February 4, 1915; "Library Opening," Ibid., February 25, 1915; "Opening of Library," Ibid., March 4, 1915; Michael Crowe, "Turning White Elephants Into White Knights," National Parks Service Cultural Resources Management website accessed May 31, 2006 (; "History of the Benson Hotel," Benson Hotel website accessed May 31, 2006 (
NOTE: History of Klickitat County lists the library's opening day as March 2, 1915, but contemporary reports appearing in the Goldendale Sentinel give March 1, 1915 as the opening day.

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